Review

What the New Science of Psychedelics Teaches Us About Consciousness, Dying, Addiction, Depression, and Transcendence

Noted culinary writer Pollan (Cooked: A Natural History of Transformation, 2013, etc.) makes the transition from feeding your body to feeding your head.

The lengthy disclaimer on the copyright page speaks volumes. The author, well-known for books on food and life such as The Botany of Desire and The Omnivore’s Dilemma, has been opening some of the doors of perception with the aid of lysergic acid, its molecular cousin psilocybin, ayahuasca, and assorted other chemical tools. His journeys are timely, since, “after several decades of suppression and neglect, psychedelics are having a renaissance.” For one thing, LSD and its kin have proven potent tools in treating depression, anxiety, addictions, post-traumatic stress, and other ailments. Through the use of neuroimaging technologies that were not available to the pioneers of psychiatric psychedelia, we can see that in interrupting ordinary patterns of thought and helping regroove the brain, these drugs are in fact mind-expanding, as the “hoary 1960s platitude” would have it. Pollan traveled deep into the woods to undertake acid-laced spirit journeys with people who are off the grid, and perhaps a touch off their rockers as well; at the Esalen Institute, he learned the latest from a place that served a historic role in spreading the psychedelic gospel. As Pollan notes, there are risks in unguided forays into the dustier corners of the mind, but the old scare tactics of chromosomal damage and going blind after staring at the sun are just that—though, as he also writes, “once introduced into the culture, these urban legends survive and, on occasion, go on to become ‘true.’ ” The author’s evenhanded but generally positive approach shoos away scaremongering while fully recognizing that we’re out in the tall grass—and, as he notes, though credited with psychological evenness, he’s found himself “tossed in a psychic storm of existential dread so dark and violent that the keel comes off the boat,” reason enough to seek chemical aid.

A trip well worth taking, eye-opening and even mind-blowing.

 
 
Michael Pollan